Tag: Ethics

The Bottled Water Scam

Some beverage companies secretly bottle tap water and then charge 1,900 times more for it

People who buy bottled water pay up to 1,900 times what tap water costs, but get less access to key information about the pricey water than they do for tap water. Big companies that sell bottled water, like Pepsi (Aquafina) and Coke (Crystal Geyser), want you to think their water is special, but refuse to reveal where their water comes from, the methods used to purify it or whether their own testing revealed any contaminants in the water. According to the Environmental Working Group (pdf), the makers of the top ten best-selling brands of bottled water refuse to answer at least one of those questions. Only one — Nestle, maker of Pure Life Purified water — willingly discloses the specific source of its water, treatment method and gives consumers access to a water quality test report. Digging for information reveals that at at least one brand of bottled water, Aquafina, is bottled from a public water source. California passed a law in 2007 ordering bottle water manufacturers to publicly disclose quality information about their bottled water, but as of 2011 only 34 percent of companies were complying with the law. When asked to supply water quality information, the makers of Aquafina claimed it was “proprietary information” that was “not for the public.” Bottled water companies make claims like their water is purely from rainfall, purified by “equatorial winds” (Fiji Water) or can help you live longer, but cannot and do not substantiate these claims. In the mean time, every 27 hours, Americans drink enough bottled water to circle the Earth with plastic bottles stacked end to end. EWG recommends drinking filtered tap water instead of bottled water. Municipalities issue annual tap water quality reports that are always available to the public.

Source: Environmental Working Group report 2011 Bottled Water Scorecard (pdf)

Colorado Legislator Who Killed Civil Unions Bill has Gay Son

Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose)

The lone Republican legislator responsible for killing Colorado’s civil unions bill voted against it even though his son and only child is gay. Rep. Don Coram of Montrose cast the deciding vote on a 5-4 party line vote May 14. Rep. Coram is the father of Dee Coram, who runs the Coffee Trader, a popular coffee bar in downtown Montrose. Dee Coram has served on a local economic development board, has been active in helping revitalize downtown Montrose and even got an award from the Governor for his work. Dee Coram says his father not only let him down, but also let down the entire gay community. Commenting on his father’s vote, Coram said, “I was told by my grandfather, there’s always a time to lead and there’s always a time to follow. He was given a time to lead, and he didn’t do it. He could have and should have been the deciding vote.” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper called the special session to address the civil unions bill after Republican maneuvering blocked it from coming to a vote in the entire House, where it had enough votes to pass. The bill had already received the approval of three separate House committees during the regular session and had enough bipartisan support to pass in the full House. To kill it, House Speaker Frank McNulty (R-Highlands Ranch) assigned the bill to yet a fourth committee — the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee — where he knew it would not pass.

Heartland Institute Likens People Who Believe in Climate Change to Mass Murderers

The Heartland Institute's billboard in Illinois

The Heartland Institute put up an inflammatory billboard along a major highway Illinois that compared belief in global warming to mass murder, but public reaction to the board — and even that of Heartland supporters — was so angry that Heartland pulled it down within 24 hours. Heartland posted the billboard along Interstate 290 in Illinois, which runs through Chicago. It featured a mug shot of Ted Kazinski, the “Unabomber,” alongside text that said, “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you? www.heartland.org” Despite the strong negative reaction to the ad, Heartland says it plans more similar billboards featuring Charles Manson, Fidel Castro and Osama bin Laden. The Heartland Institute is a climate change-denying think tank that accepts funding from big energy interests like Exxon Mobil and foundations related to Koch Industries. Heartland also belongs to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Heartland says the board was meant to promote its upcoming climate denial conference slated to begin May 21 in Chicago. In a media advisory about its ads, Heartland says the billboard was intentionally provocative and was an “experiment” intended to grab attention.

Main source: The Raw Story, May 4, 2012

Female, African-American Doctor Backs Tobacco Industry in New Ad

The tobacco industry’s front group, “Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending,” is spending millions to run a 30-second TV ad opposing Proposition 29, a ballot measure to increase in the state’s cigarette tax. The ad features an unlikely ally: a female, African-American doctor named LaDonna Porter, M.D. Prop. 29 would increase California’s 87-cent per pack cigarette tax by an additional $1.00 to fund cancer research, smoking reduction programs and enforcement of tobacco-related laws. In the ad, Porter, stands in an examination room wearing a white lab coat and says she’s against smoking, but she finds Proposition 29 flawed. “Not one penny” of the funds generated by the measure will go towards new funding for cancer treatment, Porter says, and she raises the specter that the money could be spent out of state. The ad is consistent with the tobacco industry’s longtime strategy of getting doctors to endorse their products and back their favored policies. Still, it has generated outrage. The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council in Oakland, California sent a scathing open letter to Dr. Porter expressing shock and outrage that she is working for Big Tobacco. It’s not the first time Dr. Porter has worked for Big Tobacco. In 2006, as LaDonna White, she starred in a tobacco industry-backed ad opposing Proposition 86, yet another measure to increase taxes on cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Dr. Porter has also lent her credibility to the pharmaceutical industry to fight an initiative that would have put a dent in drug companies’ profits.

TSA Complaints Reveal Travelers’ Humiliation and Torment

It took four years, but the Transportation Security Administration finally fulfilled a 2008 Freedom-of-Information-Act (FOIA) request by the investigative journalism group ProPublica for documents detailing complaints against the agency. The information ProPublica received revealed some extraordinarily intrusive searches that caused the subjects substantial humiliation, pain, and in some cases physical injury. In one case, a female traveler complained that a TSA screener asked her to remove her prosthetic breast so they could swab her for explosives. Another traveler accompanying her wheelchair-bound mother reported that TSA screeners made her mother get out of the wheelchair and walk during security screening. As a result, the woman fell and was injured. Another traveler reported packing a full bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey in his luggage, only to arrive to find the bottle almost empty. Other travelers complained that after TSA searches they were were missing money, jewelry and laptop computers. When ProPublica asked TSA why it took four years for them to send the documents, they received an apology and were told the agency gets 800 requests a year for similar information. TSA also blamed the volume of records they had to review to fulfill the request, even though their total response turned out to be only 87 pages long.

Source: ProPublica, May 4, 2012

Congressman Officially Recognizes National Day of Reason

Congressman Pete Stark

Congressman Pete Stark of California gave a statement on the House floor April 27 officially recognizing the National Day of Reason held today, Thursday, May 3, 2012. Rep. Stark said, in part, “Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize Thursday, May 3, 2012 as the 2012 National Day of Reason. The National Day of Reason celebrates the application of reason and the positive impact it has had on humanity. It is also an opportunity to reaffirm the Constitutional separation of religion and government.” Stark pointed out that our nation is home to a wide range of people of different backgrounds and beliefs, and “the only way we can solve our problems is through cultivating intelligent, moral and ethical interactions among all people.” Rep. Stark said the National Day of Reason is about helping others and improving communities, and mentioned efforts by secular people across the U.S. to conduct food drives, donate blood and help those in need on this day. Rep. Stark urged everyone to observe the day by focusing on the use of reason, critical thinking, the scientific method and free inquiry to improve the world and our country. May 3 is also the “National Day of Prayer,” and event that was ruled unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court in Wisconsin. On April 15, 2010, Judge Barbara Crabb issued a ruling in which she concluded the National Day of Prayer violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment, saying it “goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgement’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context.” President Obama is holding the National Day of Prayer despite the federal court ruling against it.

Baptist Minister Publicly Admits Disbelief in God

Teresa McBain

After a lifetime in the church, Teresa McBain, pastor of Tallahassee, Florida’s Lake Jackson United Methodist Church, got a standing ovation when she announced that she is an atheist at the American Atheists National Convention. McBain publicly apologized to her neighbors back home for having been a fundamentalist who knocked on peoples’ doors to offer them religious tracts, hoping to convert them and believing they were wrong for having other beliefs. “I didn’t know anything about you. I’d never seen your faces. You were just ‘those people.’ And I was the one on the right track, and you were the ones who were going to burn in hell. And I’m happy to say, as I stand before you right now, I’m going to burn with you,” McBain said at the convention. McBain served as a pastor for ten years. Her coming out as an atheist resulted partly from her  participation in the Clergy Project, a private, invitation-only, safe online community of current and former pastors, priests and rabbis who no longer hold the supernatural beliefs of their religious traditions. The Clergy Project was founded in March, 2011 by Dan Barker, also formerly a minister for 19 years and co-founder of the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) in Madison, Wisconsin. When the project started, it immediately gained 52 members Since then it has grown to over 200 participants.

British MPs: Media Mogul Rupert Murdoch Unfit to Lead Media Conglomerate

Disgraced media mogul Rupert Murdoch

Members of a British Parliament committee have declared 81 year old media mogul Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corporation, the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, unfit to lead a major international company. A bipartisan House of Commons parliamentary committee reached the conclusion after issuing a detailed, 125 page report on May 1, 2012, about a phone hacking scandal involving Murdoch’s UK newspaper, the News of the World.  The report accuses Rupert Murdoch, his son James and their media company News International, of purposely misleading the government’s investigative committee, intentionally covering up the truth about their paper’s phone hacking scandal and failing to conduct a proper internal investigation of the matter. The MPs wrote that the Murdochs’ “instinct throughout, until it was too late, was to cover up rather than seek out wrongdoing and discipline the perpetrators, as they also professed they would do after the criminal convictions. In failing to investigate properly, and by ignoring evidence of widespread wrongdoing, News International and its parent News Corporation exhibited wilful blindness, for which the companies’ directors — including Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch — should ultimately be prepared to take responsibility.” The MPs found James Murdoch’s “lack of curiosity” and “wilful ignorance” about the scandal “astonishing.” Page 70 of the report states, “We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.”

Burger King Announces It Will Change to Cruelty-Free Foods

Fast-food giant Burger King announced this week that it will no longer buy pork from pig producers that use gestation crates, and will now use only 100 percent cage-free eggs. Gestation crates are confinement cages that commercial pig farmers use that are so small that pigs cannot turn around inside them. Female pigs raised on factory farms spend almost their entire lives in these tiny crates. U.S. egg producers typically cram millions of chickens into cages that offer only about 67 square inches of space per bird — less space than a single sheet of paper — on which the birds spend their entire lives. Burger King’s policy changes came about in large part due to the efforts of the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), which has been tackling cruel practices in commercial agriculture, like the use of veal crates, battery cages and tail-docking of dairy cows. HSUS is forming state Agricultural Councils across the U.S. to promote humane food production practices on farms and ranches. The group’s goal is to move agriculture away from a system that treats living creatures as biological “machines,” keeping them confined in conditions that maximize efficiency but are extremely cruel and inhumane, to a more ethical, humane and sustainable system.

BREAKING: South Carolina State Senator Ted Vick (D) Resigns from ALEC

SC State Rep. Boyd Brown

On Monday, April 23, 2012, State Rep. Boyd Brown of South Carolina sent an email to all SC state legislators in which he urged his fellow legislators to leave the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Brown called ALEC a Koch-funded special interest group that wields too much power and causes legislators to neglect their constituents. Brown wrote that money continues to “be the cancer on the body politic, and with ALEC it has taken over.” He called “scholarships” through which ALEC funds legislators’ trips to conferences at fancy resorts a “pay-for-play scheme.” Brown’s plea had an effect. Today, April 24, South Carolina State Rep. Ted Vick (D) announced he is resigningfrom ALEC. In a public statement regarding his decision, Vick wrote in part, “Over the years, ALEC has steadily drifted to the right and away from its original purpose . . . I have found myself voting against their legislation more and more . . . Recent revelations concerning ALEC’s funding sources from radical elements

SC State Rep Ted Vick

have proven to be the final straw for me. ALEC has become too partisan and too extreme. . . . ALEC has become part of the problem and I can no longer be a member of this organization.” In press releases on its website, ALEC maintains that it has been the target of an organized intimidation campaign and harassment tactics carried out by “liberal front groups” that are simply attacking ALEC’s free market policies, without addressing any of issues raised by the groups regarding problems with the legislation ALEC has been spreading.

Dow-Funded PBS TV Series Promotes Dow and Its Product Lines

A new, four-part PBS television show airing this month called “America Revealed” is sponsored by the Dow Chemical company, whose products and commercial interests the program showcases. The arrangement leaves PBS open to charges that it is serving as a cheerleader for big industry in exchange for cash. The first episode aired on April 11, and was about large-scale agriculture — an area in which Dow is a leading business. The show examined the corn industry and portrayed controversial genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in a positive light. Dow manufactures genetically-modified seeds. Similar, self-serving segments follow in other areas in which Dow also has commercial interests: Infrastructure/Transportation, Energy and Consumer/lifestyle.

Marine Corps Air Squadron Adopts Religious Name and Symbol

American Hornet jet painted with red Christian cross

The U.S. Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron 122 based out of Beaufort, South Carolina used to be called the “Werewolves,” but they recently adopted a new nickname: they are now called the “Crusaders,” and the symbol painted on their jets is a red, Christian-style cross. The “Crusaders” was a historic nickname used by the squadron from 1958 to 2008, but as they prepared to deploy to Iraq in 2008, the unit’s commander, Lt. Col. William Lieblein, wisely changed the name because “The notion of being a crusader in that part of the world doesn’t float.” The term “Crusader” is derived from the historic European military crusades that took the lives of millions in the middle east in the name of Christianity. Insurgents in the middle east pejoratively call American military personnel “Crusaders.” In March 2012, Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri referred to International Security Assistance Force troops stationed in Afghanistan as “Crusader Swine.” But the unit’s new commander, Lt. Colonel Wade Wiegel, doesn’t see any problem with changing the squadron’s name back to the “Crusaders.” Mikey Weinstein, who heads the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), blasted the change.  Almost a hundred concerned U.S. Marines contacted Weinstein about the change, mostly moderate Protestants and Christians who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of reprisal.

Federal Court Says Groups Can’t Keep Campaign Donors Secret

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Jackson, Washington, D.C.

A District Court in Washington, D.C, ruled (pdf) earlier this month that it is illegal for groups to keep secret who funds their political attack ads.  At the heart of the case was a regulation promulgated by the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) in December of 2007 that required disclosure of the names and addresses funders who donate $1,000 or more to organizations for electioneering communications. But the FEC, in interpreting the law, deferred to the argument that keeping track of such donations would inordinately burden corporations. In attempting to clarify the law, the FEC created a huge loophole by promulgating a follow-up rule that allowed groups to circumvent disclosure provisions required by campaign finance laws, like the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, and the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling.  The disclosure provisions in Citizens United have largely been overlooked.  In Citizens United, justices wrote that “the public has an interest in knowing who is speaking about a candidate shortly before an election,” and “transparency enables the electorate to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages.”   U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Jr. (D-Maryland) challenged FEC’s loophole in a lawsuit brought against the FEC in 2011.

ALEC, Embattled, Ditches its Public Safety Task Force

The American Legislative Exchange Council, the group that has come under attack recently for its proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” gun laws, announced today that it is eliminating its Public Safety and Elections Task force, the subcommittee responsible for creating and pushing voter suppression laws, liberal or “Shoot First” gun laws and other controversial legislation that has drawn more scrutiny to the organization. ALEC’s move to dump the task force comes shortly after ten major corporations fled the group. ALEC has been at the heart of the spread not only of controversial “Shoot First” gun laws, but also of laws that attack unions, divert taxpayer funds to private schools, “papers, please” immigration laws and other controversial laws.  ALEC explained the dumping of its Public Safety and Elections Task Force by saying it was eliminating the group to focus more strongly on economic issues that “spur competitiveness and innovation and put more Americans back to work.” An ALEC spokeswoman said the organization would no longer work on issues pertaining to elections or guns. The elimination of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force is a victory for grassroots groups like ColorOfChange.org that have been campaigning to highlight ALEC’s role in spreading legislation drafted by corporations.

Main source: American Legislative Exchange Council press release, April 17, 2012

Pain at the Pump Funds Huge Pay Raises for Energy Executives

Chevron Vice President R. Hewitt Pate got a 75 percent pay raise in 2011

Gasbuddy.com, the website that logs gas prices across the U.S., has a big blue banner ad at the top of its pages that says “Where’s your gasoline dollar go? Click here to find out.” Clicking on the ad takes you to a page, GasPricesExplained.org, that says “Why are Gas Prices Rising?” GasPricesExplained.org points to unrest in the middle east and north Africa, declines in surplus production, weather events and exchange rates, to name a few reasons why gas prices are skyrocketing, but it doesn’t directly address the sizeable contribution speculation makes to inflated gas prices.  A section titled “Where Does My Money Go?” claims that “Most of what Americans pay at the pump for gasoline is the cost of the crude oil used to make it, which is why global demand and geopolitical factors are so important.” But the site fails to mention that sky-high gas prices are also funding huge pay hikes for energy industry CEOs.  Exxon Mobil’s Chief Executive, Rex Tillerson, for example, got a 21 percent raise in pay in 2011. He now makes about $35 million in total compensation. Tillerson is expected to get an additional 8 percent raise in 2012. John Watson, Chair and CEO of Chevron, saw his pay increase a whopping 51 percent, just since just 2010.

Philip Morris and Monsanto Sued over Birth Defects in Tobacco Farmers’ Children

Screen shot from Monsanto's website

Tobacco farmers in Argentina filed a lawsuit (pdf) against Monsanto and Philip Morris for requiring them to use herbicides and pesticides that caused a high rate of severe birth defects among their children. The farmers charge that Philip Morris and the subsidiary companies that bought their crops required the farmers to stop growing their native tobacco grow a new kind of tobacco instead that Philip Morris uses in its cigarette formulation for the North and South American markets. The new tobacco they had to grow required more pesticides, and the farmers had to use excessive amounts of Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup — but the defendant companies did not warn them about the dangers of the herbicide, or provide the farmers with safety information about the chemical or any protective gear to wear when applying it.

Vodka Ad Jokes About Sexual Assault, Gets Yanked

Offensive Facebook ad for Belvedere Vodka

The makers of Belvedere Vodka yanked a controversial ad that appeared to joke about rape. The ad showed a horrified woman trying desperately to escape from a leering man who was grabbing her from behind. The tagline read, “Unlike some people, Belvedere always goes down smoothly.” The company tweeted the controversial ad and posted it on their Facebook page, only to get strong and immediate backlash. Belvedere moved quickly to remove the post and apologized several times. Belvedere’s ad agency, Arnell Group, has done ads with strong sexual overtones for the brand before, but the agency denies that it created this particularly controversial ad.

Main Source: Ad Age, March 23, 2012

DirecTV’s Disappearing-Channels Scam

Thinking of subscribing to DirecTV? Think again. DirecTV pulls a fast one on subscribers to push them into more expensive packages after they sign up. Here’s how it works: Like all cable and satellite TV providers, DirecTV offers different levels of programming that include specific channels. New subscribers select the package with the channels they want — or so they think. A few months after you subscribe to their service, DirecTV pulls some of the channels originally included in your package. All of a sudden when you try to watch those channels, you get a “Channel Not Purchased” message on your screen. When you call DirecTV to tell them about the suddenly-missing channels, they say they’ve taken them out of your package and you’ll need to upgrade to a pricier package to get them back. DirecTV makes little effort to notify subscribers in advance of this change. They don’t announce the changes, for example, in any of the regular emails they send customers announcing special deals and “free” weekends of premium channels. They don’t add any more channels to your package to make up for the ones they’ve removed, and they don’t compensate customers financially for the loss by adjusting your bill for the channels you no longer get. On their website, they explain the loss by saying they took the channels away to help “manage rising programming costs.” Their website also says, “At DIRECTV, we strive to bring you the best entertainment experience available.” All you have to do is subscribe, or peruse the comments at CustomerServiceScoreboard.com/DIRECTV to find out that DirecTV pulls this scam with relative frequency. DirecTV also charges you $10.00/month extra to get a high-definition receiver, where most other pay TV services provide HD to all customers as part of the deal.